by Ariella ShusterAriella Shuster

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of attending Woody Mosten’s 40-hour Divorce Mediation course. For any who have taken this training, you know that metaphor plays a big role in understanding and explaining what happens during a peaceful divorce mediation process.

Cleaning out the garage was used by Woody as a metaphor for removing items, inventorying them, maybe moving them around and deciding what to do with them during the divorce process. Who would get them? Would the items still be useful? Did one party care more about some item stored away than the other? Where might the items be moved to? Should they just be discarded? And, very importantly, which ones resided in the shadows, gathering dust, ignored, until now?

Metaphorically, those dark corners, those dusty, unseen areas can hold the most impact for a divorcing couple, for a family reorganizing. Memories experienced as deep emotions show up as the old, the discarded, the broken, and see daylight again. The grown-out-of-tricycle, the wedding album hidden below the old snorkel gear that showed us new worlds on our honeymoon. Exploring these boxes, these albums, these items, that signified the personal and family events, opens unexpectedly deep emotions.

As mediation practitioners, we are sensitive to the awakening and resurgence of potentially hard feelings – sadness, grief, anger, fear, failure, blame. Our craft not only includes, but demands, the awareness of how to help our clients be with these feelings without derailing an amicable mediation. Taking the metaphor of  “cleaning out the garage” can assist, even further, in this task.

garageBy dealing with the small boxes first – those with little emotional weight, and moving steadily through the larger ones, we allow our clients to grow proficiency in the lifting. In the metaphor, we would not begin by trying to get the heavy wood dresser buried in the back of the garage out before removing the lighter objects – paperwork, garbage bags, chairs, rakes, garden tools – out of our way.

As mediators, we help our clients clear the path to the heavy items, and create facility with the lifting. Through the process, we help them to shoulder the weight by setting a pace that works for them. Each couple and each family will be different. Some will find the weight of seemingly light snorkel gear to be the heaviest to bear. As practitioners, we need to allow our clients to discern what is heaviest for them and, with their invitation, structure sessions in a sequence that allows them to be prepared to clean out their garage in the way that best suits them.


Ariella Shuster is an attorney, amicable divorce mediator and certified life coach. She is the author of the upcoming book, Ditch Divorce Court: The New Way to End Your Marriage and Minimize Damage to Your Children. A New Yorker transplanted in Seattle, WA, she enjoys co-parenting her son, fine food, fine wine, travel and the great outdoors. Her website is

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